Understanding anxiety and panic attacks

There’s no denying that we’re living in strange times and it’s perfectly normal if you’re finding it hard to cope at the moment. When your emotions become overwhelming, it’s important to spot the signs.

When feelings of stress and anxiety become overwhelming, you may experience what’s known as a panic attack: a type of fear response that mental health charity Mind describes as “an exaggeration of your body’s normal response to danger, stress or excitement.”

With constant news updates, the stream of social media posts, combined with worries you may have about money, work, your health or your loved ones, you may be more susceptible to a panic attack at times like these.

“There’s a ton of uncertainty that’s raising people’s anxiety,” explains Simon Gunning, CEO of mental health charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). “From information overload on COVID-19 to social contagion over Twitter about not having toilet paper or food in the supermarket which creates panic. So, it’s understandable to feel anxious and scared.”

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When you have a panic attack, it feels overwhelming, but knowing the signs of one can help understand what you’re going through. When you have a panic attack, you may feel a combination of:

  • a pounding or racing heartbeat
  • feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
  • feeling very hot or very cold
  • sweating, trembling or shaking
  • feeling sick
  • pain in your chest
  • struggling to breathe or feeling like you’re choking
  • feeling like your legs are shaky
  • feeling disconnected from your mind, body or surroundings

Mind also notes that during a panic attack, you might feel like you’re:

  • losing control
  • going to faint
  • having a heart attack
  • going to die

Most panic attacks last for around five to 20 minutes, and the symptoms usually peak at around 10 minutes. It can be very scary to have a panic attack, but there are things you can to to slow them down, and even ward them off altogether.

“It’s important we focus on the things we can control and not the things which are out of our hands,” Simon continues. “There are some simple, practical steps we can follow to help combat anxiety.

“Talking to someone you trust about what’s making you anxious could be a relief. It may be that just having someone listen to you and show they care can help in itself.”


Your feelings are valid, and it’s okay to feel anxious or worried about everything that’s going on. Managing these worries can go a long way and really help before they become overwhelming.

“Manage you worries,” Simon advises. “Set aside a specific time to focus on your worries – so you can reassure yourself you haven’t forgotten to think about them.

“Write down your worries and keep them in a particular place – for example, you could write them in a notebook, or on pieces of paper you put in an envelope or jar.”

There are so many things at the moment that you can’t control, so focusing on the things you can control can help keep those fears at bay.

“Look after your physical health,” Simon urges. “Try to get enough sleep. Sleep can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. Eat healthy and get as active as you can. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental well-being and being indoors doesn’t have to be a barrier.”

Nothing is normal right now. The only thing you can control is how you take care of yourself. So, stay inside, make yourself comfortable and check out our #EnableCommunity on Twitter and Instagram to take your mind off everything that’s going on.

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